The Call of the Dinner Plate

There’s always room for a good political joke. I heard this (disparaging) remark about a politician I admire and thought it worthwhile repeating for cleverness and appropriateness for using against someone else.
“…spends his time trawling through the calendars of each village and town council to see when their next village fete or open day is so that he can fill his face at the trough. I’ve never known a man turn up to so many free lunches. He’d attend the opening of a letter if there was a sandwich in it for him!”

Hessel Street, London – an Appreciation

On Sunday 16th December I attended a late Chanukah party at the Triangle Jewish Genealogical Society, just up the road from Raleigh, North Carolina.
One of the features of the afternoon was a Kvel & Tell and I delivered the following introduction to the film “The Vanishing Street” which focusses on Hessel Street in London’s East End.

“Ladies & gentlemen and Debbie, very many thanks for inviting me here today to Kvell and Tell about the film, “The Vanishing Street” (which is showing behind me – but with the sound switched off) which tells of Hessel Street in London’s East End.
We are going to deal with Hessel Street’s place in East End social history and its place in my family history and in my wife’s family wanderings.
What qualifications do I have for being here today?
First my great grandparents lived in Hessel Street in 1883 when it was called Morgan Street. In 1901 Alice’s grandfather stayed in the adjacent Christian Street when he was a jobbing tailor en route to the United States from Roumania.
Hessel Street is famous as a Jewish Street Market.
Eric Levene, author of Feinstein’s Theory of Relatives writes of Hessel Street, much in the manner of Damon Runyon with his ability to place people and events in time and geographical location

“In the beginning, there were no Jews.
But by the 1920’s, Hessel Street market, in the heart of London’s East End was full of them. There were butchers, bakers and chicken soup makers, costermongers and a host of wheeler-dealers and luckless shpielers.
A 200 yard long and maybe 10 yard wide sardine tin, crammed full of vibrant Jewish life and, as nature would have it on occasion, death. They came from all over. There were Poles & Russians, Latvians and Lithuanians, Moldovans, Ukrainians, Rumanians and Georgians, plus a multitude of others who had escaped the pogroms that had been raging across Eastern Europe.
And remarkably, they all got along with each other without the need to argue; unless they needed to”.

Anyone of a certain age with an East London connection will be aware of Hessel Street and its place in social and mercantile Jewish East End and many more will have heard tales of it from parents and grandparents. There is a Facebook Group of Hessellters and they meet and hold informal lunches in Westcliff, Essex near the mouth of the Thames.
The Vanishing Street is a wonderful 20-minute documentary film and is readily findable on Youtube. It was made in 1961 as the bulldozers moved in to demolish the street’s decrepit old buildings.
By then the market was almost a relic.
This film purports to show a typical day in the life of the street, and its declining but still vibrant Jewish community
The film begins with a smartly dressed surveyor with his theodolite, measuring up the street for demolition as the market stalls are being set up and the locals, meet, chat and go about their business
We see old men with black hats and long beards, sizeable ladies with loud voices, Wurst and viennas, fish (including I think a conger eel), pots and pans, dresses and toys, a barber’s shop and a dress factory with dozens of women at their Singer sewing machines.
By 1961 the market was almost a relic. The London Docks were moving to Tilbury and people were being decanted out of the area into nice new more sanitary housing in the new towns of Harlow and Basildon.
There were still many Jews in the East End but nothing compared with a few decades earlier.
Economic progress and the Blitz had moved them on.
The joke was always that Stepney Borough Council always saw its purpose as demolishing the buildings which the Luftwaffe had missed.
In the early 20th century Hessel Street was the East End’s main Jewish market, open every day except Saturdays
The narrow street was filled with small shops and stalls
Chickens and other poultry were kept in cages; buyers selected one, had it killed according to kosher ritual and dressed while they shopped elsewhere
There were also many wet fish stalls, and general shops
Possibly it was the last of London’s ghetto markets
I have a cousin in London who recalls that her mother always bought her chickens from the “Jews Market” because of the freshness and the quality – even though the Watney Street market had cheaper chickens and was closer to her home.
In Hessel Street, and in much of the East End, Jewish life has been replaced by Bangladeshi life – and there are hints of this in the film.
The kosher poulterer has been replaced by the Halal butcher.
Jewish market stalls have been replaced by Bangladeshi stalls, selling very similar things
Jewish poverty has been replaced by Sub-Continental poverty and Jewish striving by their striving
What is said today about the people fighting their way into Europe absolutely echoes what was said about Jews between 1880 and 1905 when millions fled from Russia and Poland
Then as now there were people traffickers.
Then as now people were fleeing desperate circumstances
Then as now there were the unchanging complaints about immigrants and their strange ways of life
In 1871, before Jewish immigration, the average occupancy of a Whitechapel house was just over nine people, in 1901 it was close to 14
At the beginning of the 20th century, there were 120,000 Jews in the East End
Now there are very few. As the years passed, people moved away to more comfortable places.
Where there were over 100 synagogues – today there are only three
Seen today, The Vanishing Street is a nostalgic film but not a sad one
The East End was somewhere to flee to and somewhere to escape from.
Thus we see in the film, the continuing dynamic of street life and everyday life because as we all know “For things to remain the same, everything must change”
And that concludes my Kvell and Tell on The Vanishing Street.
Thank you for your patience and attention”.

It went down well and there was a lively Q&A afterwards. The East End diaspora is everywhere!

How the West was Won

I have occasionally blogged on the joys of Aberystwyth and its place as a University town in the far west of Wales. The story is that its railway line escaped axing in the Beeching era, not because the line was profitable but because it ran through five Labour held parliamentary constituencies.
It is a nice place to visit, not just because we have family there but because of its indomitable spirit of activism despite the efforts of the City fathers.
This spirit is exemplified by the sign I saw in a car window.

Does it mean that Aber is overrun by ravening hordes who will smash a car window in search of stale (or otherwise) food. No, it means that if due to idiosyncrasies in the licensing laws, the pie shops close before throwing out time at the local bars, then there is no profit to be found scavenging in the parked vehicles looking for left over sea gull food.

This is What I Like about the South

Feeling the need for an Independence week end getaway we decided to take ourselves down to Kinston and visit Kings BBQ Restaurant.
Kings BBQ Restaurant feeds Eastern NC barbecue lovers locally and nationwide, serving 8,000 pounds of pork, 6,000 pounds of chicken, and 1,500 pounds of collard greens a week! So it is obviously well recommended.
My initial curiosity was sparked by a clip as part of a NC tourist promotion and the YouTube extract is worth watching.
I had the pulled pork (which is why we went) and as a side dish I had the collard greens which are cooked with bacon. Together with the fried okra and freshly cooked chips we couldn’t manage a dessert – so we brought the pecan pie home with us. And yes, being well brought up and skilled in these matters I would never put ketchup on NC barbecue pork.
Kinston has a population of 21,000. The area is very agricultural – where else would you see highway billboards extolling the virtues of pesticides and fertilizers? The farmland is characterized by tobacco which is an indicator of poor soil. Kinson was badly affected by Hurricane Matthew last October
 as the restaurant marker shows.
It was a good trip and a very nice meal – plain homestyle Southern cooking at its best. The restaurant was pleasantly full but not crowded and our waitress Tina bustled around like the true professional she is.
Is it on the list for a revisit – yes it is!

Thoughts from London

Regular readers of my blog may have noticed that I have been quiet lately. This reticence is partly because my bloggable life has not been that eventful.
However not long after the London Bridge terrorist outrage, I dined at the George Inn in Southwark (just south of London Bridge).
The George Inn was
built in 1677 and is the only galleried inn in London. The street was reasonably busy, since London Bridge is a major railway terminus for the Kent towns. The George is quite close to the site of the Tabard which features in the opening lines of the Canterbury Tales:

At nyght was come into the hostelrye
Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye
Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle
In felaweshipe, and pilgrims were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde

The George was busy and the coaching area was now full of drinking people enjoying each other’s company before going home. The two bouncers at the front of the yard may have been permanent and not just because of terrorist security issues.
I sensed that the overall feeling in London was of not letting the security situation get one down or restrict one’s social life.
Ten days later I treated myself to a fish and chip supper at the Fishbone in Cleveland Street (between Great Portland Street and Tottenham Court Road). Coincidentally opposite the restaurant was the George & Dragon pub. From what I could see it was not very large but there were about a hundred people outside drinking and enjoying themselves as if the terrorism threat was totally elsewhere.
Perhaps it is all in the survivorship genes. People are around today because their ancestors survived previous horrors. If you don’t keep going forward then you lose out on the game of life.

Rome is calling

No, not in the sense that my New Year Resolution is to be elected Pope by acclamation like St. Fabian. It’s just that the New Year’s Eve Spectator contained the gem that best food market in Rome is the Mercato Testaccio and the thing to eat there is a smordi-e-vai-aandwich from Mordi e Vai called el panino all’allesso which is a bread roll dunked in dripping then layered with tender slices of beef. Just the thing to stock up the waistline prior to Lenten contemplation. Meanwhile the Spectator’s weekly competition focussed on meaningless, pseudo-profound statements. The prize winners (£5 each) included the following:
The camel of forgetfulness knows more than the python of curiosity.
It is sometimes wiser to circle the square than to square the circle.
No snail by wishing can become an elephant.
But my favourite is: A ceiling keeps thing in, a roof keeps things out. – just the sort of thing a budding realtor should  know about.

Squirrel as an Economic Indicator

SquirrelMy UKIP friends in Suffolk talk about the Chihuahua of Doom (see previous blog on 22nd December 2013) but I’m indebted to columnist A.C. Snow of Raleigh’s News & Observer for the comment that he has a friend who assures him that the local economy is in good shape. The barometer of financial well being is the squirrel population.
Apparently during the bad patches people eat squirrel and they are not doing that now! According to chef Georgia Pellegrini squirrel hunting is more American than apple pie…. Few things are more intertwined with American history and tradition.
Squirrel is, in fact, one of the most popular game animals in the eastern United States. Squirrel also features in the 1931 book Joy of Cooking. Our edition dates from 1980 but the recipes are still there.
Please see:
http://www.newsobserver.com/living/liv-columns-blogs/ac-snow/article49250445.html http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2012/01/22/why-eat-squirrel-really.html
http://www.thejoykitchen.com